Contractors will begin installing new awnings this spring on two state buildings downtown that will allow workers to dismantle some of the scaffolding erected 2.5 years ago to protect people from the risk of cracking and falling glass.
The scaffolding went up around the headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Research Center in advance of the museum’s annual BugFest in fall 2014.
If all goes as planned, much of the scaffolding in front of the museum center should be gone in time for this year’s BugFest in September, said Kent Jackson, director of the State Construction Office.
Jackson’s office is working with a budget of $2.7 million that covers roughly three years of scaffolding rental, planning and design work and construction of awnings that will protect the most highly trafficked public areas outside the two buildings. More money and planning will be needed for the employee entrances and the rear portions of the buildings, Jackson said.
“It probably will be a multi-year effort to completely address all of the individual areas so that 100 percent of the scaffolding can go away,” he said.
The two adjoining buildings on Jones Street are part of the $100 million Green Square project, a showcase of green design and construction that includes some 5,000 panes of glass on the external walls and lining many internal walls, stairways and balconies.
Green Square has looked like a construction project that never ends. The scaffolding has become such a part of the Nature Research Center that the museum has been hanging banners on it to announce new exhibits.
Some of the glass began to develop cracks shortly after the buildings were completed in 2012. In anticipation of BugFest 2014, the state erected scaffolding to protect walkways and installed barriers to keep people 15 feet from the buildings as a precaution.
Tests showed that the cracks were caused by “nickel sulfide inclusions,” a microscopic defect in the glass. Only a small number of the windows developed cracks. But without any way of predicting which ones would fail next, the scaffolding and barriers have remained while the state worked on a permanent fix.
And so Green Square has looked like a construction project that never ends. The scaffolding has become such a part of the Nature Research Center that the museum has been hanging banners on it to announce new exhibits.
Beyond aesthetics, another casualty of the scaffolding has been the outside seating area for The Daily Planet Cafe, the museum’s restaurant. Visitors entering the restaurant from the outside follow paths covered in scaffolding past the unused patio where people once ate.
“It was quite a popular spot,” said Jonathan Pishney, spokesman for the museum. “But it’s been unusable since the glass situation.”
The awnings are part of broader strategy to stabilize the glass and protect people should a piece of it break. Last year, workers replaced some internal panes of glass and covered others with a protective film. Work on the awnings should begin in late April.
It’s not clear yet whether the state will pay for the fixes or seek compensation from the glass manufacturers and suppliers or the companies that chose the glass and installed it. The state Department of Justice is working with DEQ and the Department of Administration to review the costs of repairs and “determine if there is any liability for the parties who designed and constructed the building,” said Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Josh Stein.
Jackson says there have been some “preliminary, investigatory discussions” on the subject of who should pay, but that for now the state will foot the bill.
“Our office has determined that the glass that was installed met the current building codes,” Jackson said. “That’s a pretty key determination.”